Give him good cars and Christopher Bell will win the race. But in his second race? With a new team? It did not seem possible.

Bell defined the odds on Sunday and earned his first career Cup Series win – which, in his second race since Gibbs Racing, took him back to his inner circle – to kick off an unexpected week of racing at Daytona International Speedway for.

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Michael McDowell Surprise was the winner of the Daytona 500 and then Bell traveled to Victory Lane earlier than expected. This is just the third time in NASCAR history that the first two races of the season were won by the first-time winners. This was previously done in 1949 and 1950 – the first two seasons of NASCAR.

More important, Bell and McDowell have snagged the coveted berth in the 16-driver playoff field, a troubling trend for mid-pack teams that need all 26 regular-season races to point their way into the championship picture it occurs. Race winners earn automatic berths and the remaining spot points are decided by standings.

“The dynamic has changed dramatically,” Brad Keselowski said. “We are very early in the season and it has now turned into a race race for those last few places. If you don’t win, you’re in a lot of trouble because it doesn’t look like you’re going to be able to. To go to the playoffs. “

Bell followed Joey Logano on the winding Daytona road course to secure his first win. Logano had a commanding lead, but Bell, on fresher tires than Logano, put him in the reel and passed him with just one over remaining.

“It’s the highlight of my life,” Bell said. “I have prepared my entire life for the race in this series.”

The 26-year-old Oklahoman is a longtime Toyota development driver who won 16 Xfinity Series while driving for Gibbs. But the organization has only four cup seats and was full last season when it was time to move Bell to the big leagues.

He Instead they were loaned to Leavine Family Racing, and although it was also a Toyota team, the one-car operation was not nearly as strong as the Gibbs Group. Team owner Joe Gibbs decided not to renew Eric Jones last summer, who said he was blinded by the move, and instead bring Bell back into the fold.

This put pressure on Bell and he did after a rocky opening a week earlier. Bell was racing in front of the Daytona 500 pack when he gave a huge blow to Aric Almirola and a 16-car crash on just the 14th lap of NASCAR’s first race of the season.

Bell’s win booked a statement weekend for young drivers at JGR. Team owner Joe Gibbs’ 18-year-old grandson Ty Gibbs won the Xfinity Series race Saturday night at the start of his first career national series.

Meanwhile, McDowell finished his Daytona 500 victory with a career-best road course VIII.

Logano vacated for the second week, but without the theatricality of his last-lap crash with teammate Keselowski as he raced to the Daytona 500 victory. Logano finished second.

“I hate him,” Logano said.

Denny Hamlin was third to give Gibbs two cars in the top three. Kurt Busch took fourth and Keselowski finished fifth.

Before the race Keselowski and Logano had their first conversation after the Daytona 500 crash – Logano called it “a healthy conversation” – and teammates will now try to move on.

“We’re as good as we can be,” Keselowski said.

Kevin Harvick sixth, and AJ Almdinger, finished seventh in their first cup race after the 2018 season concluded. It was the most concluding of the three cup races for Kollig Racing, an Xfinity Series team formed in 2016 that wants to become a full-time cup next season.

Ryan Prese was ninth for a pair of top-10 finishes at Daytona. JTG-Daugherty Racing now has no charter to guarantee a chance on the field every week, and without it the team cannot promise that it will race every week this season. With this debut, Preuss currently ranks seventh in the point standings.

Chase Elliott again had the most prominent car but his streak of four consecutive wins in the point-paying road race was cut. He A race-high led to 45 laps and was out in the front when Hendrick Motorsports was forced to make a tactical call due to rain being cautioned 15 laps.

Elliott traded track positions for the new tires, dropping from the lead to 15th. He Worked until fifth, but when he ran into Kurt Busch’s back. Elliott finished 21st.

Elliot said, “This kind of texture is used for a mixed bag, which is paused and which goes, it’s a little bit.” “I thought the tire was the right move. But you get back into traffic and it just gets so chaotic and just depends on who (the traffic) goes through and who doesn’t and determines what. Is how it moves. “